Despite its archaic sounding name, a professional doula is a pretty modern occupation and vastly different from nurses. Serving as the person who intervenes with the doctor, they help in and around a mother’s pregnancy and delivery. To give us a peek at a doula’s life, Stephanie Heintzeler joins Richard Marn, MD to share her most interesting stories and realizations in working in the profession. She explains what her typical day looks like, what aspects of her job provide the biggest fulfillment, and how she helps moms even beyond delivery. She also dismisses the misconception that doulas are a huge mumbo-jumbo profession and why she recommends young people to give it a try.
Listen to the podcast here:
Stephanie Heintzeler On How A Professional Doula Works
Before we jump into the conversation with our next guest, I want you to know about a slight change in the format. At the beginning of every conversation, I add a few questions. Five questions with five facts that give you a big picture overview of what this career is all about. After which we dive into the meat of the conversation and get a fuller picture of what this profession is and the career can entail. Before I introduce you to our next wonderful guest, let me ask you this question. Is there a profession that you know of that helps mothers that are expecting or about to give birth? Is there any profession that helps them through that that clearly helps guide them as a consultant, they’re with them the whole time during the birthing process? Nope. It’s not a nurse. It’s not an OB-GYN, not usually. It is a doula, a birth doula to be specific. That is the topic of this conversation.
Our guest is Stephanie Heintzeler. She is a birth doula. Originally born in New York City, she moved to Germany at a young age where she was raised. After high school, she pursued a midwifery career and obtain a Midwifery Certificate in Germany, as well as being an Acupuncturist. She eventually moved to New York where she was a Medical Assistant at one point and a licensed Tour Guide for New York City. After the necessary training, she became a doula here in New York City. She is also a Certified Lactation Consultant. Besides practicing as a birth doula and lactation consultant, she is also the Founder of TheNewYorkBaby.com, an agency with about twenty-plus doulas and three baby specialists. With her company, she’s able to offer childbirth classes, workshops, birth support, postpartum visits like teaching consultations, day and nighttime baby specialists. This is someone who has had a career in and around the pregnancy and birth of a child. At the time of this interview, Stephanie was in Germany and I was in New York City. This was the first guest I had from the EU. Let’s jump into this awesome interview with Stephanie.
Stephanie, thanks for joining me on this episode.
It’s nice to see you.
You are in Germany and I’m here in New York during this recording. That’s neat. I haven’t interviewed anybody in Germany yet.
Let’s do some five quick questions that we alluded to before. What exactly is your job title and what is your job?
I am a birth and postpartum doula. A doula is a birth coach, a coach for pregnancy birth and postpartum. The word, doula, comes from the Greek that means a woman who serves. It’s an old profession.
What are the usual steps to achieve your profession?
To become a doula in the United States, you contact one of the main agencies that certify doulas, which is DTI, Doula Trainings International or DONA, Doulas of North America. Usually, the training is short. It’s about a week of training. It takes another six months to serve clients sometimes for free, sometimes for low costs and have them write up how your support was, read a certain book, do some more classes. They usually have a whole list of classes that you also need to take, then six months later, you’re a doula. However, it’s not a protected profession. It’s like a coach, everybody could be a doula. You don’t need to be certified to be a doula.
In what settings do people in your industry work?
All over the country, generally in larger cities, it’s more common.
What settings, is it a hospital or at homes?
Both, mostly hospitals but it could be a client’s home and a birthing center. We usually start laboring at home and go to the hospital together. We follow the client wherever she wants to have the baby.
What type of patients do you work with?
I work with pregnant patients, sometimes want to be, pregnant during labor, new families and new babies.
What other professions do you usually work with closely?The safer a mother feels at labor, the better the birth outcome is. Click To Tweet
I work mostly with OB-GYNs. I also work with pediatricians, with a lot of people in the healthcare field, with the power circle like the acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritionists, naturopaths, everyone who’s trying to keep women healthy during pregnancy when it cannot take a lot of medication.
Let’s dive deeper into this if you don’t mind, Stephanie, you talked about being a birth and postpartum doula. How are you exactly helping patients in that setting? What are you exactly doing?
Many people don’t even know what a doula is doing.
I learn more when we first talked about what you do, and that was eye-opening for me. I’m naive about this career.
In a way it’s like being a tour guide for a difficult trip or a wedding planner at a difficult wedding. We are being hired for usually six months. Someone contacts me four months before their due date. They interview me, they hire me, we have a contract so that they know I’ll be around for them and I’ll be on call for them, especially these three weeks around their due date. They contact me whenever something is going on with their pregnancy. When they have questions, when they feel any major changes in their body, not necessarily labor-related, when they have updates about the pregnancy, questions, I tell them how to prepare for the birth. We go over what to expect at the hospital and we want to create birth preferences. My goal is for the client to have the birth that they want. We don’t know what the baby wants and what’s happening, but we always have a foundation. That’s what I work with during pregnancy. We look at what is her philosophy, what is a good birth for her? Is it pain-free? Is it as medicated as possible, staying home a long time, birthing at home or birthing at the hospital?
We communicate that with the OB-GYN or midwife. Once she goes into labor, she’ll call me first. We usually stay in touch for a day or two until we know if this is labor. If things pick up quickly, then we meet quickly. Usually, I meet them at home. From then on, I’m hands-on. It’s all about coaching the mother, finding the right position, breathing with her, giving the right breathing techniques for the phase of labor she’s in, lots of counter pressure, acupressure, pain relief and observing her, making sure she feels safe. The safer a mother feels at labor, the better the birth outcome and the better usually the birth goes in terms of it progresses because she feels good. She feels she can let go.
In the hospital, I’ll continue with doing the same thing but oftentimes there’s a lot of translation of medical terms, helping with decisions. Should we break the water or not? Should we induce or not? Should we give Pitocin artificial contractions or not? There are a lot of interventions in the hospital that start with drawing blood. That’s already considered an intervention. It’s more looking at, “When should we do this?” The mother knows it’s important, this is necessary and feeling that there’s someone by her side who’s advocating for her. I am by the mother’s side and partner’s side until the baby is born. If the birth takes two days, I’ll be there for two days. It’s around the clock. It can be tough but also rewarding because I get into the zone with the mother and find myself giving birth somehow myself. She’s releasing all these hormones. I know how to help. Oftentimes, if someone is stressed next to you and you can help, you forget yourself during that time. That’s what happens to me. I usually feel aches and pains after birth. Not to worry.
Especially if you’re with them that long.
For a long birth, it can be tough. I’ve learned over the years how to take care of myself and not give everything at the beginning of labor. I try to be hands-off in the beginning and do more once she’s in active labor and close to having the baby. After birth, there are lots of questions, there’s helping with breastfeeding if she wants to breastfeed. I also see the clients after birth at home when they go back home. It’s a whole, big package that the parents get and serving them and making sure. There’s a lot of being in touch during that time, communication. A big part for the doula is to learn where to take care of themselves, otherwise they can’t do this for a long time.
As you first mentioned, you’re like a tour guide for the mother and the partner. It could start anywhere in the first trimester, second or third trimester. If that’s an apt description or analogy, that often tour guides are for people who haven’t been there before, are most people that hire you and work with you first-time mothers?
Most of the time, yes. Seventy-five percent of first-time mothers who in fact are scared and don’t know what’s going on and want to be informed, they want to know what’s going on. Twenty-five percent are women who might’ve had a bad experience the first time. They feel they need to heal that and they want to know what’s going on and avoid whatever happened the first time, or maybe they had a doula where they had a great birth experience but they need a doula again for whatever reason. I’m going to have a baby with the same mother for the fourth baby with a client, that’s the first time that someone that’s going to have her fourth baby. I don’t have that many clients who have four babies. That’s great. We’ve been together for several years.
Especially in New York.
You get in touch with the client until six months after, they still might have a question here and there. You’re not in touch for three months and then she’s pregnant again. That’s nice. It’s like being part of the family.
Are you also there with the mothers if they go through a C-section as well?
Yes. Sometimes I get hired for C-section if they’re scared, if they don’t have a partner who goes with them or if they want someone who’s been there many times and who can talk them through why they feel this, what oils could we use, what to expect? That can happen but most of the time, doulas join a C-section that’s not planned. Our C-section rate is not high in New York City where it’s 33%. Doulas usually have a C-section rate of 10%. It’s low.
Why is that?
A big thing is that doulas in general lower the C-section risks by 40%. That’s why many of our clients hire a doula. The reason is that the doula does in fact give information, the pros and cons of interventions, clients feel safer, they speak up more. They try to avoid speeding up the birth, for example. They try to avoid pain medication. It’s not that everyone doesn’t want pain medication but they don’t need it as early. They use it later, which means less risk for mother and baby. They know how to breathe and how to position themselves but mainly they feel prepared. When you are prepared for a certain event, chances are that the outcome is going to be much better. That’s what the doula is helping with.
When my kids were born, we had an OB-GYN. My wife and I were reading books. We didn’t have a doula. We relied on the OB-GYN to help educate us along the way and their nurses. How is that different than what you’re doing?
It depends on the OB-GYN. There are amazing OB-GYNs out there, amazing midwives who take the time to speak with the patient, with the mother and also want what the mother wants. They want that she has low intervention, they are patient. In New York, we don’t see a lot of OBs who are patient or hands-off or will have the time. From my midwifery experience, I used to be a midwife, I was in the medical field and we have five patients at the same time, and the doula is with the same mother the whole time. I had a mother who said several times, “I think the baby is coming.” The doctor came in and said, “I examined you ten minutes ago. I don’t believe you.” The doctor left the room and the baby came. I delivered her. Believe the mother she thinks the baby is coming. It’s situations like that where I’m in the room and sometimes I catch the baby. It can happen. It’s also being there the whole time.
I can’t tell you how many times things have happened. The mother started bleeding or the blood pressure climbed up. I did think the baby was coming soon and nobody was in the room and the nurses often don’t know. I say, “Something is off or the water broke and it looks a little bloody. Maybe someone should check.” Nobody would have done that if they wouldn’t have a doula in the room. I have had some bursts where I was like, “This could have been bad if I wouldn’t have been there.” What the nurses see outside in the little room where they have all the screens, they see the baby’s heartbeat and the mother’s heartbeat, but that’s it. They don’t see if she’s freaking out, that her bladder is full, that she’s getting nauseous and has been vomiting because she’s done that an hour ago and the nurse has changed. That can be stressful, nobody checks in on the mother.
I’ve had births where we needed medical interventions. We had an induction and then the Pitocin, the artificial contraction medication wasn’t increased for an hour or two. You don’t want to drag along in induction forever if you decide you take medication, you want to get things going. I had to notch the nurse and remind them there was always someone else. It was awful. Finally, we had someone who got it and was like, “Yes. We need to up this every fifteen minutes because if it takes too long, then we get way into the night and mothers get tired.” It’s overseeing the whole process and the OBs usually can’t do that. It’s a time issue.
Speaking from my experience as the dad of two kids, when we’re in that birthing process at the hospital where my kids were born, what would happen was we go in and different people would come in and out whether it’s the nurses, anesthesiologists for the epidural or the OB-GYN to come check on the patient. They come in and out. It wasn’t like people were staying there. The only people there in the room the whole time were me and my wife. You’re that third person there. It seems to me you’re a patient advocate but there all the time during the critical period. Does that sound right?
Yes. Advocacy is a big word. I don’t use it all the time because some people are like, “She’s going to fight for me. She’s going to throw herself between the doctor and the mother.” There are doulas out there that can be like that, to anti-everything, anti intervention or, “we don’t want this.” I would never speak for the mother. I usually have a little trick with my clients where I tell them, “If the doctor wants to do an intervention and I nod along, asks you a question or I can explain it, then know that I’m fine with it or it makes sense, but if the doctor wants something and I say, “Could we ask a few questions? Can you explain this a little more, I don’t know if this is necessary or that should be?” She should decide on herself in general anyway but they stare at me. The second the doctor comes in they’re like, “What do you think?” I want to be hand-in-hand with the doctors. I don’t want to work against them.
That’s a balance to have that communication. You’re working with them. They’re trying to help the patient. You’re trying to help the patient. Trying to find a balance where the patient can make the best decision for herself. Are you involved with the child after they’re born at all?
Yeah, quite a bit. The first hour after birth, I help them latch on the baby if they want to breastfeed. Usually, there’s a big part in their birth plan that covers postpartum. When should they get their shots? When should they get certain exams? Until we can have the so-called golden hour. It can be on the mom for the first hour, if possible. I help with the latching and go over what to expect the first day. My clients are being sent home after 24 hours. That is quick, the milk hasn’t come in yet. After 24 hours, the baby might lose quite a bit of weight or might develop jaundice. I want to make sure they know about all these things and to know how to avoid jaundice, for example, or at least try their best to give the baby a lot of fluids. I see them for the first hour after birth. With Corona, we usually have to leave after an hour. Usually, we stay for about two hours, so a little longer. We stay in touch via text if I’m still alive after birth, sometimes I crash after the twelve hours. Then my colleague can step in if they have questions.
I see them a day or two after once they go home and weigh the baby. I’m also a lactation consultant, so I weigh and check on the baby and make sure they know what’s going on until they see the pediatrician, which is usually two days after that. I bridge those 2, 3 days that they might not see anybody. If they see the pediatrician soon, then I come after because I don’t think they need to see two people on the same day. There are a lot of questions after birth. I could have a standing text line with every kind once they gave birth to their baby because they have many little questions.
Especially if they are new mothers.
Every baby is different. Sometimes even second or third babies, “This time it’s a girl, now the baby girl has a period. Is that normal?” “Yes, it is.” They know, I tell them what to expect. Oftentimes, the couples are not clear. They call me because I need to take sides. The partner says this, the mom says this, “Which is right?” Oftentimes there’s no right or wrong, which is nice for them to notice. They try to develop their intuition and we don’t always tell them what to do. Sometimes the biggest deal is for the parents to dress their child warm enough, but many forget that this is a child that can’t keep their temperature. I come to see them and the baby’s half-naked, no hat. I measure the temperature and it’s 95.6. That’s a little scary. It’s things like that.
In a lot of ways, you’re like a consultant on speed dial. Stephanie, what is your typical day like? I know it’s not typical, but if you had to make a typical day for what you do as a doula.
I also run an agency with twenty other doulas. The morning is usually where I take care of the inquiries that we receive and see which doula would be good for which client or essential contracts.
You match clients off with doulas. What’s the name of your company?
The New York Baby. These days, it’s a lot about what the client wants, where they live, what they expect what they do, Thanksgiving babies. We don’t have that many doulas available for January babies, for example. The morning is my office time. I do home visits usually. I’m always on call. In the end, I look at my schedule, “Who’s due right now?” I usually have one client due per week. There’s always someone who could go late or early. In the end, there are always 2 or 3 clients who could go into labor any minute. I look at the schedule and prepare my bags. In case I had a birth, my partner could throw my bags in the cab and bring it to wherever I am in the city in case I need to run somewhere.
I do home visits. I try to limit two home visits for breastfeeding and lactation consultation. They could be anywhere through the city, and that usually takes me six hours. Each client I see about 90 minutes. Traveling takes a long time. I go home and in between, on the subway there’s lots of texting and emailing and trying to be in touch with some clients who hired me for something like lactation or someone is in early labor. I’ll go home, try to do household stuff. I usually try to wind down a bit in the evening because most birth calls, I receive around 1:00 AM, which was a wonderful time to get a call, when I just fell asleep.
That’s the best time to get calls from anybody, not just birth calls.A doula is like a tour guide for a difficult trip or a wedding planner at a difficult wedding. Click To Tweet
I have all the time in the world. Whatever is going on in my life, usually I go to bed and I feel fine. A few times, I go to bed and I might have a sore throat or I didn’t sleep well the night before and I’m like, “Please let me sleep.” Most of the time I get to sleep. Three times a month someone calls me at that. I remember it was 1:00 AM, “My water broke.” If they are in labor, I don’t mind and if they’re going to have the baby, but what is horrible is if they’re not in labor and they need me but nothing’s happening yet and I go into the second night, that’s what kills me, two nights in a row.
That’s your usual schedule. If someone is giving birth that’s put on hold and you’re with them the whole time at the hospital or their home or wherever they’re at.
That can happen. Sometimes, someone calls me in the morning kindly enough and says, “I’ve been crampy all night, maybe it’s picking up.” I cancel everything because I never know when they need me anyway. I had a birth, a first-time mom, she called me and she said exactly that, “In the early morning, it’s nothing.” First babies, usually pick up that evening and then they go into labor that night because the hormones usually drive the mother into labor in the evening. I canceled things because I also need to rest a bit. With this client, although it was her first baby, there was something weird about her voice. She said, “I’ve been crampy all night.” I canceled everything and I stayed in touch with her as usual. Usually, I do my day but for some reason I stayed in touch for another two hours. I was like, “This is strange.” She said everything everyone else said, “I just felt strange.”
Eventually I was like, “Let me come and check on you,” which sometimes I do in early labor to check in on her. I went to Williamsburg, which is about half an hour away, not too far. The dad texts and says, “Her water broke.” I’m like, “I have to run.” It was her first baby, there was no reason to run. I ran, got off the subway, ran to the client. I get there and she stands in the tub and I see her and she looked completely normal. Then she had a contraction and I’m like, “I need to check you. I need to check the baby because I thought this baby was coming.” I always have an emergency glove in my pocket. I put on the glove and checked her. I felt the head, it was right there.
It was close to crowning. I knew there’s no way we’re going to make it to the hospital. First baby, two hours.
It takes longer hours to go through that phase.
They think the baby is coming and I get there and I’m like, “Let me go home again.” She had no idea. There was something with her. We called 911. We had them on the phone while the baby was coming. I got her out of the tub and put her in front of the bed. Two policemen came, they were the closest, and they were standing in the corner, watching us. Three contractions later, the baby was out. That was fun. I was a midwife and I rarely get to deliver the baby. It was nice. Everything went well so that was nice. In that job, there’s a lot of gut-feeling too. I have still no idea what made me go to see her.
Thank God you did.
It’s nice to see, I’m like, “I chose the right profession.”
What is rewarding about your job?
That was one of my favorite stories. Those things that I have an instinct and I think like, “Something is off here, you should get checked or I should go see you.” In general, the most rewarding was a happy mother, a healthy baby and a happy partner. Not necessarily that they say, “We couldn’t have done this without you.” A lot of people say that but it’s more like, “No. You develop the courage and the wisdom. I was there but I don’t always do that much. I’m just present. I can’t massage someone for fifteen hours.” I start doing that. The partner takes over but eventually she does her own thing.
Seeing how this patient change during labor, I don’t know if you saw your wife before an epidural sometimes, they go in their zone and they do their thing. I point that out to the dads sometimes, this technical side like, “Look at her. This stain like the white triangle along with her mouth, that’s this phase. That’s when the cervix is five centimeters.” The doctor checks, “Five centimeters.” Those things are nice. When I see that a client doesn’t regret during labor, they see me and they’re relieved. You always have to prove yourself a bit the first couple of hours when you’re with them. They pay a lot of money. They don’t want to stand there with their arms crossed and be like, “Why are you here?” I’ve never had that, thank God. You want to make sure that they feel like, “This was worth it. This is helping and we love this.”
You’re with them a long time, many hours and you’re probably there during certain conversations between the spouses that they probably wouldn’t have with someone else there but you are there during those intimate times. What misconceptions do people have about your career?
The big misconception is that people think the doulas are only for home births or a doula is a home birth midwife. Sometimes I ask the client, “You want a home birth midwife?” “I thought you would do that.” “No. I’m a doula, that’s nonmedical.” They still need a midwife and an OB-GYN. That’s a misconception sometimes or that we are punchy and all for a natural birth, everything needs to be woo-woo and oils and music. Especially in New York, I have a lot of clients who are like, “Don’t come in with candles and oils.” Funny enough, when they’re in labor and I hold a nice oil under their nose when they’re nauseous, they love it. In the end, it works. I don’t think that oils can take labor pain. It will ease it, it will make it more comfortable and better atmosphere, but labors are they are what they are. It’s like doing a hike. You need to do that hike. I’m going to tell you how to move your feet and how to breathe and where to turn right and left, but you still need to do the hike yourself.
What do you think the future outlook is like for your profession, Stephanie?
It has changed now under COVID because there have been some restrictions. There are still restrictions in certain states that doulas cannot attend the birth in person. We’ve done a lot of virtual support, sometimes because we had to, sometimes because the client preferred it that way. It works beautifully but it’s a change. The service is somewhat different, what we can and cannot do. In a good way also, insurances are looking more at doulas. Medicaid has a program in many cities where they cover doulas. If they are certified a certain way, with DONA or if they’re in-network, they have to apply with them. That is a nice and good change especially for families who truly need it and don’t have the resources to learn themselves about all the pros and cons of everything. That’s a nice change.
There’s a lot of advocacy happening in the doula world. Black Lives Matter is huge, very important. People are more aware of doulas now, let’s put it that way. More and more people hire doulas. It’s more seen as a valid profession, which several years ago, nobody knew what a doula is. Now, most people at least say, “I know what that is.” I hope in several years they’re like, “My neighbor is a doula. My best friend is a doula.” It’s a good movement.
Do you recommend this career to students? If so, what kind of students best fit this profession?
In order to be a doula, people need to be flexible. You’re on call all the time. You never know what your day is like. You need to do this out of passion because you lose your private life. Many doulas have kids. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t have kids. You leave your family for 20 or 36 hours, you don’t know when you’ll be back. You’ll miss your kid’s birthday, you miss many things and you can’t blame client, you’re on call. You need to be aware of that. Do it out of passion. I would recommend doing something before, some other certificate whether it’s a social worker or a nutritionist, many are yoga teachers.
Doulas who are twenty and become a doula and nothing else who don’t have any other foundation, I’m not sure how quickly they would be able to market themselves to a point that clients trust them and hire them. You need a lot of knowledge about the body itself. It doesn’t need to be medical, any other background, even a personal trainer. You need a lot of knowledge about nutrition. Psychology, relationship is stuff. They need life experience. I have clients who say, “I don’t want her to be 22 if at all possible.” They want the doula to speak up and be confident. They usually need more. Most doulas have any other experience. If it’s marketing, it doesn’t need to be in the health and wellness field, but it’s usually something that helps them to get this profession going because a lot of doulas struggle the first years to find the clients. A lot of money and time needs to be spent for marketing, studying and selling yourself about giving birth and what really happens.
Stephanie, when you were younger, did you want to be a doula? Was this on your mind?
I always wanted to be a midwife. My brother was born when I was twelve. I saw my mom being pregnant. I wasn’t at the birth but then he was here. I thought this was incredible. I was interested in medicine. I was also trying to get into a place to study Medicine. There was a waitlist in Germany. I applied to study Medicine and for a midwifery spot at the same time, meanwhile, I studied how to become a teacher. I studied German and English to become a teacher. I didn’t know when I would be able to get more into the medical field.
In 1997, I received a call that I have the space to learn midwifery. My parents would have loved to see me study. Several years later, I should have studied medicine because it’s a little more in-depth, you are on a higher level. As a midwife, I often felt I’m not challenged enough somehow, not necessarily intellectually but more like my options. If you’re a midwife, you’re a midwife. You can give classes, you can do postpartum visits but as a GYN, you can do many other things on a much higher level. That’s the one thing I told my parents years later, “You should have pushed me. You should have forced me.” They said, “We tried.” I love what I do, so it’s fine.
You become a midwife in Germany and you had a career as a midwife for many years. How did it start?
In Germany, midwives by law, need to deliver the baby.
Versus the OB-GYNs?
Yes. An OB-GYN is not allowed to deliver a baby by themselves. That’s the law. In Europe, it’s pretty much everywhere but Germany, 100%. I am a midwife. I deliver the baby by myself, with the mother, she delivers her baby. I’m there. I don’t have to call the doctor unless there’s an issue. They’re on the floor if I need them. The doctor is not allowed to deliver this baby without a midwife. The midwife needs to be there and welcome the baby. We have many more rights, versus in the US the doctor delivers the baby and yes, the mother chooses a doctor or a midwife but mostly the mother delivers with the doctor. It is already more medicalized. I moved to New York in 2003, knowing that my midwife certification is not valid in the US. I did different things. I was a tour guide in New York. I worked for a Japanese GYN, which was fun. Eventually in 2006 someone said, “Have you thought about being a doula?” I’m like, “What’s that? I never heard of that.” She said, “You just need to do a course.” I’m like, “What?” She told me, “It’s the weekend. You don’t need any medical training.” I’m like, “I have the medical training but not here.” Anyway, I looked it up and there we go. That was with DONA. I did the four-day training.
I did all my other credentials, which compared to midwifery was nothing, plus I’m overqualified as a doula. Many doulas move into midwifery after they’ve been a doula for a while because they love it and they feel like, “I need to do the medical part now. I need to be more valid and legal and have a bit different profession with this.” I enjoy being the doula because I’ve done the medical part, I know it. I know where the doctor is coming from, why they recommend something, but I’m here to bring in my perspective and also to be there with her one-on-one, which I couldn’t do as a midwife. I enjoy that to help her, to be face-to-face and to bond. That’s how I became a doula in New York. That was 2006.
Over time, I became so busy. I went back to Munich again and worked for a few years again as a midwife in Munich. At the same time, I was still in New York on and off. I became busy in 2012 that I founded The New York Baby because I also knew doulas who didn’t have enough clients. I increased my rates. Those newer doulas had lower rates. I was like, “Here are the clients, here are the doulas. Let’s bring them together.” It’s worked out nicely. I enjoy it, bringing in new doulas constantly. There are a lot of doulas who drop out. The burnout rate is high if they’re not cautious. I’m constantly interviewing new doulas. It’s wild. Many love the idea and they love birth, but then they realize how hard it is to be with someone for 48 hours and don’t see a partner for four days or the kids. Maybe the passion is not strong enough or maybe they’ve had another profession before. There are different reasons.
Your company, The New York Baby, how many doulas do you hire?
I contract so I do less. Half-half, half to in-person services with COVID, the other half does exclusively virtual. We also offer classes, childbirth classes and then virtual lactation consultations. Those are received well, which is nice. The client feels they need help now, they do a FaceTime with them or a Zoom call and that works nicely.
Stephanie, is there anything that you would have done differently reflecting back on yourself?
I would have studied Medicine. I still think maybe I should still do it but no, it’s too late now. I love what I do. It takes a lot of time to build your business. Looking back, that would have been better for me but at the same time to be a doula who comes from the midwifery side and is a little overqualified for that.Being a doula requires a high level of flexibility. Click To Tweet
Also, I love the entrepreneurial side. To be a doula, you have to have an entrepreneurial mind and be creative and curious, look what’s my niche, what people do I want to focus on? I noticed some creative doulas. I have some doulas who used to be models. I have one who’s an architect. They do all kinds of stuff but then they bring that in, and it’s great. It is a wonderful profession as a postpartum doula. If you don’t do burst and you don’t want to be on call and you visit clients after birth, you have your schedule. It’s for three hours a day.
It’s a bit less time-consuming by being a postpartum doula versus a birth doula.
The postpartum is easier with a family and with the schedule. It doesn’t have the same income. You make more as a doula for birth because it’s crazy. You’ll call and drop in, you can’t drink alcohol. I can’t leave the city for a birthday party in New Jersey but who wants to leave the city now? You can do all these different things. If you’re not scared of all this flexibility or if you have another business where you are self-employed and flexible, then being a doula is amazing because you can start easy. You take one birth or one time for postpartum. See how you like it and do it for fun. I do less out there who take on four births a year and I love it.
Stephanie, I want to change the topic a bit. Thank you for sharing the information. I’m going to change it a bit to Dr. Marn’s fun lightning round. You may have heard about this already. Favorite day of the week?
Favorite ice cream flavor?
If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?
I love Whitney Houston in general. Those are powerful songs. The Greatest Love of All, that’s what it would be.
What’s something you could eat for a week straight?
What I love during labor, long births and whatnot is bread with butter and honey. I’m health conscious and whatnot, but it gives you the right sugar booster and it’s also a treat.
One of your favorite books you don’t mind reading again?
I love all Lily Brett’s books. She writes wonderful stories about New York. One book is called New York. She’s wise, lots of life, wisdom and her books, you can read them several times.
Most beautiful place you’ve ever been to?
Alaska, that was where I was in awe.
If you could ask a pet two questions, what would it be?
I would ask my cat, “Do you like me? Are you ever satisfied?” She likes to eat all the time.
If you had to live in a different state in the US, what would it be?
California. More because of the lifestyle, not because of the fires.
If you were told you only had one week to live, what would you do?
I would hope it’s in the winter and I would go skiing in Switzerland. That’s my favorite thing to do.
If you could travel back in time, is there a period you would go back to?
The ‘60s sound fun. Seeing my parents and hearing the stories, having visited what’s hot and whatnot. It’s not too far away.
Final question. Can you say something about yourself that most people at your workplace would not know about you?
The tour guide thing, that’s so out of my profession. I was a tour guide in New York and I picked up people from the airport and I sometimes spend a whole week with VIP clients staying at the Palace Hotel. I had all this itinerary with them. I celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Marriott with them and crazy stuff like that. That was fun.
Where can readers go to reach you and learn more about you?
They can go to my website, TheNewYorkBaby.com. There are also a few videos that describe what a doula is and how to have a good birth experience. They can email me at Stephanie@TheNewYorkBaby.com. If they’re interested in learning more about the profession, I also have a video that I have for doulas to be because I got many inquiries over the years, “How do I be a doula? Can I talk to you?” I don’t have the time, but I made a video that I send out to people, “This is what I did.”
It’s on your website?
It’s not on my website, people email me and then I send it to them with a password on my website. That could be helpful as well.
Stephanie, thank you for joining me on this episode. It’s a lot of fun, laughs and education.
You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
That’s our show. Thank you for reading this episode of Health Careers with Dr. Marn. I enjoyed talking with Stephanie Heintzeler about her career as a birth doula in New York City. I especially liked how she talked about being a tour guide for the birthing process. That was a great analogy to help better understand what she does for her clients and the patients. To learn more about this guest and other past guests, or if you like to reach out to me, please visit HealthCareerswithDrMarn.com or HCWithDrMarn.com. I’d love to have you. Please subscribe to our email list by adding your email to my homepage, that way I can send you the latest updates and news. Thank you for your support and reading. I’ll catch you on the next episode.
- Stephanie Heintzeler
- Doula Trainings International
- Doulas of North America
- New York
About Stephanie Heintzeler
I am a German-educated midwife and acupuncturist as well as US-educated birth and postpartum doula, a childbirth educator, CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor) and IBCLC (Lactation Consultant). I founded “The New York Baby” in order to put parents in touch with a doula who fits their needs and budget as well as make sure parents have continuous support not only during birth but also postpartum.
Parents can choose to meet and work with me for birth and/or lactation consultations or hire one of the birth and postpartum doulas or baby-nurses.